Latvia’s Lutheran roots run deep. In fact, just five short years after Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the church door in 1517, the Reformation made its way to this small country on the Baltic Sea, and Lutheran churches flourished.
But more recently, 50 years of atheist Soviet rule took a toll on the religious health of Latvian people. And though there was a brief religious “awakening” after the fall of communism, many Latvians today share the same secular worldview that permeates the rest of the Western world.
“After the Soviet Union broke up, there was a huge wave among people who went church and wanted to be baptized, whole families and houses,” remembered Rev. Juris Ulgis, president of the Board of Directors for LHF-Latvia. “The churches were full of people. But now this is not so. Now people are struggling with money, work, children. People are going to church less and less.”
Emigration has also been an important factor in church attendance in Latvia.
“For 20 years, we’ve had very low birth rates here in Latvia,” explained Rev. Ulgis. “We have huge emigration. For example, statistics show that over the past two decades, we have lost approximately 10 percent of our population – over 200,000 people. This we can see also in church attendance.”
The result of all these factors? Latvia has become a mission field, her people in desperate need of the Savior, Jesus Christ.
BUILDING UP THE FAITHFUL
The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL), a partner church of the LCMS, has two approaches to sharing the Gospel, and LHF’s Lutheran books in the Latvian language play an important role in both.
First, books that strengthen and encourage the faith of the ELCL’s 250,000 members are of utmost importance, said Rev. Ulgis.
“We are always seeking to find a balance: good theological books for our pastors, but also good simple books for lay people and children,” he said. “Both things are important.”
LHF has published several books in recent months that teach the faith in an engaging and easy-to-understand way, including Broken, Lutheranism 101 and The Reason for God.
“For example, The Reason for God answers common questions the people have,” said Rev. Ulgis. “Why does God allow suffering? Is it really possible that a God who is love sends people to hell? Latvian people often ask such questions, and this book answers them in a simple and clear way. It’s very good for an average person, even an unbeliever.”
Reaching the Lost
Reaching those unbelievers is a second goal of the ELCL. “Many people who lived through Soviet times weren’t baptized, and now they are in their 40s, 50s and even 60s, and they are searching,” Rev. Ulgis explained. “We need these kinds of books to help teach as God calls them to faith for the first time.”
For Rev. Ulgis, one surprising area of distribution is to Latvians who have emigrated. “We now have new Latvian communities abroad, especially in England, Ireland and Germany,” he reflected, “huge Latvian communities in those countries. We have now this new tendency of receiving orders from those communities. ‘Please send us good Lutheran literature,’ they write. ‘We would buy them.’ This was not so 5 years ago, but nowadays, I receive such orders more and more.”
To provide greater accessibility to the general public, local Christian bookstores have started carrying LHF books at below-cost prices.
“Without the support of our friends around the world, we would not be able to sustain this,” said Rev. Ulgis. “Our Lutheran Church cannot imagine daily life without these books. There is no other such Christian book publishing in Latvia like LHF.”
Only with your help can this important work continue. Prayerfully consider how you can help support LHF projects.